Cause of Beach Fire Unknown
Arson Among Possible Reasons For Arcade Blaze
By Patrick Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, July 6, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
HAMPTON -- Fire officials are still investigating the cause of a fire on Wednesday night at Funarama Arcade at Hampton Beach, including the possibility it was arson.
A quick response from local fire departments was credited for saving the arcade and numerous other businesses on the first floor of the 108-year-old Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom.
While a couple, who reported the fire, told fire officials they witnessed a group of young teenagers in the area at the time of the blaze, Hampton Fire Chief Hank Lipe said it's too early to jump to that conclusion that they may have been involved.
"Everything is open right now," Lipe said. "We want to rule out other things before we start saying that it's suspicious."
Fire Inspector Jeffrey LeDuc said fire officials have a witness statement saying one of the teens had in his hand what looked to be lighter fluid. Other witnesses disputed that statement saying it was just a water bottle.
"Right now, we are trying to track them down because they were in the area when the fire occurred," LeDuc said. "They are not suspects. We just want to talk to them to see if they saw anything to help us figure out how this started."
LeDuc said investigators will not know if the cause was arson until test results return from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
Firefighters were called to the ballroom at 139 Ocean Blvd. at 7:44 p.m. At the time, the building was still being evacuated and the fire alarm system was sounding throughout the building.
A massive fireworks show scheduled for Independence Day had already been canceled because of rain, but thousands of people remained at the beach and on the strip on one of busiest nights of the year.
Lipe said the fire was spotted on the outside of the F Street side wall.
"The fire was in the wall," Lipe said. "We immediately started cutting the wall because once the fire goes up to the ceiling, it will cross over. That would have caused big trouble."
While the main fire was extinguished within minutes, crews remained at the scene until 10 p.m.
"We had so much smoke trapped up to the building, we had to basically get rid of all the smoke and locate where new smoke was coming from to chase down any hot spots," Lipe said.
Police, along with crews from the state park, closed down the main drag in Hampton Beach by cordoning off between D and F streets.
A scheduled performance at the Seashell was canceled.
Lipe credited the extra staff on duty at the time of the fire for saving the building.
"This is a 100-year-old building," Lipe said. "The wood is old and dry, and fire travels extremely fast. Fortunately, we did an aggressive attack and it will be open tonight for a concert. That's good. That's why we are here."
A 50-foot section of the wall, floor and ceiling on the F Street side of building sustained damage. Other parts of the building, including the ballroom, sustained smoke damage. The ballroom was able to open Thursday night for a scheduled performance by Robert Cray and James Hunter.
The only stores closed at the Casino on Thursday morning were the Funarama, Tony's Annex and Sanborn's Candies.
"The Fire Department did a great job," said Fred Schaake Jr., one of the Casino's owners. "We were minimally impacted here. We are just trying to take the smell out and get ready to open tonight for the show."